Marx's Critique of Capital: 101

on 15 October 2007 at about 0:14

Originally posted at CEMP [ ]

So many of the ideas about the media that theoreticians talk about, revolve around Marxism. Marxism revolves around Karl Marx's critique of capitalism. 'Capitalism' is a flavour of Political Economy. See Key Concepts: Ideologies for some context.

Political Economy

At the heart of Marx's political economy lies the idea of value.

Marx initially distinguishes between two types of value: use-value and exchange-value


Marx's examples are linen and coats:


Exchange-value is the relationship of value:

Exchange-value, then, is created by the expenditure of labour.


Of course, in practice, Marx noted that the reverse was true, and it is the translation of labour to money - the transition from labour-value to monetary value - that creates the inequalities.

If the exchange-value of a commodity is generated by the labour in its production, but the monetary value realised is greater than the labour-value, then there is a natural imperative which arises to ensure that more and more commodities are made for less and less cost.

The Economy Gives Rise to Ideology

The Marxist discourse, and ideas about political economy, then, stem from Marx's analysis of how the exploitation of working classes arises. Of course, there are many other aspects to Marx's ideas of political economy, but we don't need to go into all of them to see the centrality of these concepts of value.

By extension we can also see why the 'values' of a society might be very useful to vested interests:

The Division of Labour and Alienation

Marx's emphasis is on the worker, the proletarian.

In his essay, Estranged Labour, he describes this as alienation, isolation, and estrangement. He argues that the consequence of this is that:

"man (the worker) no longer feels himself to be freely active in any but his animal functions - eating, drinking procreating, or at most in his dwelling and dressing-up, etc; and in his human functions he no longer feels himself to be anything but an animal. What is animal becomes human and what is human becomes animal."

(McLellan, 1977)

In the same essay, Marx argues that the worker becomes the 'object' - he is objectified, in fact, turned into a commodity, become sub-human.

From his "Communist Manifesto",

"These labourers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity, like every other article of commerce and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market."

(McLellan, 1977)

We might like at this point to reflect that what enables barbarous acts to be committed in a society is the objectification of human beings, whether they be Jews in Nazi Germany or Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib.

Marxism != Communism

We should not take Marxism and Communism to mean the same thing.

"From each according to his ability, to each according to his need."

You have to go a long way from these ideas to explain the nature of totalitarian regimes such as that that arose in Communist Russia under 'Uncle Joe' Stalin.


McLellan, D. (ed.), 1977. Karl Marx: Selected Writings Oxford: Oxford University Press

Marx, K., 1954. Capital, London: Lawrence & Wishart

Engels, F. & Marx, K., 2004. The Communist Manifesto, London: Penguin

This post was brought to you by Joe - reading Marx, so you don't have to. :)

Lecture archive

  • Media & The Body Readings
  • The Use of Theory
  • Play
  • Production - [Critical Media Concepts and Contexts]
  • Narratives: Endlessnesses and Existence
  • Narratives: Endings, Meaning and Morals
  • Narratives: Performers and Players
  • Narratives: Performers and Players
  • Narratives: Familiarity and Strangeness
  • Intro to Media and Participation 2008 - 2009
  • Narratives: Stories and Structures
  • Narratives: Opening and Introductions
  • The Writerly Text: Part 1
  • Media & Participation: Identity
  • Media & Participation: Truth
  • Media & Participation: Citizenship
  • Media & Participation: Culture
  • Ownership of Ideas: Part 2: The History of Copyright
  • Ownership of Ideas: Part 1: The Romantic Author
  • Bournemouth Soundseeing: collaborative authorship
  • Marx's Critique of Capital: 101
  • Key concepts: Ideologies ...a historical view
  • Narrative and Structuralism and the brothers Grimm
  • Intro to Digital Media at BU
  • Small Print

    Joe Flintham 2000 - 2015

    Long form: Menticulture

    Professional Services: Fathom Point